What Is The Western Diet & How Did We Get Here?

Farm, soil, seedlings

At some point food stopped becoming food. In the past, people owned farms, or worked on farms, which consisted of crops and livestock that they used to feed their families. If they didn’t have their own farm, they purchased (or traded for) food from their neighbor’s farm. People ate different crops depending on what was is season and what grew best in their climate. The livestock roamed free on the farm, got plenty of exercise and consumed grass and bugs and other things that were native to the region.

Then came the industrial revolution. With the discovery of mass manufacturing the goal became to make food as cheap and readily accessible as possible. People stopped focusing on the quality of the meat, fruits and vegetables that were being produced and started focusing on the quantity. How can we make more, faster and make it stay fresh longer?

In Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto he reviews how the industrial revolution came about and how it has led to today’s Western diet. He also discusses, in detail, a concept referred to as nutritionism (coined by an Australian sociologist of science by the name of Gyorgy Scrinis). In a nutshell, nutritionism is the food industries attempt (successful attempt might I point out) to direct our attention to specific nutrients within food as opposed to the whole food itself. For example, processing food strips it of most of the basic nutrients it once contained. To compensate, food manufacturers “put back” certain nutrients into the food so they can put a pretty label on the box that says “high in calcium” or “great source of omega-3’s”.

But what about all the other vitamins, minerals and nutrients that whole food used to contain, don’t we need those as well? And are those synthetic, man made “nutrients” they just cooked up in a lab created equal to the nutrients that whole food created itself when it was grown? My guess is no.

According to Wikipedia, “The Western pattern diet (WPD) is a modern dietary pattern that is generally characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, candy and sweets, fried foods, conventionally-raised animal products, high-fat dairy products, eggs, refined grains, potatoes, corn (and high-fructose corn syrup) and high-sugar drinks, and low intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pasture-raised animal products, fish, nuts, and seeds.” Aka, the diet that most American’s consume on a daily basis.

We as consumers didn’t even realize what was happening, that the quality of the food we were being sold was slowly declining, bit by bit. Before we knew it we were overweight, possibly malnutritioned and dying from new diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

I often hear people say “Well that’s what I grew up eating”. That’s true, I did as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s what is best for us. It’s not your fault, it’s not your parents’ fault. That’s what we were taught. That’s what the manufacturing companies and marketing companies told us was best. That’s even what the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told us was best. Remember the food pyramid?

So what can we do, how do we move forward? Avoid processed food. Don’t fall victim to the commercials and claims on food packaging. Stay away from packaged food as much as possible. When you do purchase packaged food, read the label and ingredient list. Try to avoid ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweetners, colors and flavors, artificial preservatives and other things that don’t pass as food.

Focus on eating whole foods in their most natural form.

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